ORIGINALLY WRITTEN TOM STOPPEL
Kyle Kopper is a senior at Tabor College, majoring in accounting and finance, with ag-business added for good measure.
He is a member of the Bluejay basketball team and is getting married this summer to his high school sweetheart from Cimarron, Winter Burns.
His life reads like a storybook-now. But Kopper has overcome a disability that could have significantly rewritten that story.
Kopper entered the world Oct. 3, 1980, with a”clubfoot.” The cause of the deformity isn’t known, but statistics indicate it occurs once in every 735 to 1,000 births, and boys are twice as likely as girls to be affected.
“Right away, we knew there was something wrong with his left foot,” said his father Kent, who was on hand for the birth. “Kyle basically, didn’t have a heel. The part that should be the heel was on the leg, plus it was turned in severely.”
Kyle’s odyssey to overcome this physical challenge began on his first day in this new world.
“Kyle was born at 2:39 a.m. and I went home to get some rest,” Kent said. “When I came back around seven, Kyle already had his foot in a cast.”
Kim Kopper, Kyle’s mother, said the doctors declined to do surgery initially because a baby’s bones are so soft at that age.
“They could simply manipulate the foot to the position they wanted it,” she said. “Every day for the first week, we would change the cast. Eventually, it was once a week, and then once every two weeks, because at that age, the bones grow so rapidly.”
But modern medicine isn’t always an exact science. In Kyle’s case, casting wasn’t correcting the foot to the doctor’s satisfaction.
At 9 months old, Kyle underwent surgery. His foot was placed in a cast once more-but at 10 months he was up and walking.
“He stood up in his crib on the day after his surgery,” Kim said. “He used his cast as a walking cast.”
Unfortunately, the first surgery failed, and nine months later his parents took him to Wichita for a second one.
His parents’ were less optimistic this time.
“The doctor in Wichita told us second surgeries usually don’t work very well,” Kent said.
Thank goodness, the doctors were wrong again.
“The doctor that did the second surgery called Kyle his miracle baby,” Kent said.
And Kyle’s fortune has been steadily increasing ever since.
“It didn’t slow me down at all,” Kyle said. “They got it fixed, and I never looked at it as a handicap. I just appreciate what my family did when I was little to help make my foot a non-issue.”
Much to his parents delight, Kyle not only walked, he excelled in athletics as he grew older.
One common outcome for people with a clubfoot is a lack of development of the calf muscle in that leg-and a corresponding lack of strength.
“I definitely have that,” Kyle said.
He also encountered a few other bumps in the road. Like a junior high assistant football coach who said, “that kid has a lot of drive, but he’ll never amount to anything.'”
But instead of using his foot as a crutch, Kyle used it as a motivational tool.
“In junior high, Kyle accomplished so much more than we could have ever imagined,” Kim said. “He broke the school record in the hurdles.”
“And he was league champion in the high jump,” Kent added.
“We just threw him in with the rest of the kids,” Kent said. “We never went up to a coach and told them to take it easy on Kyle.”
In high school, Kyle continued to excel in numerous sports. He was a member of the track, football and basketball teams and played baseball in the summer.
As the starting quarterback his senior season, Kyle led his team to a 10-0 record before losing in the state playoffs. Kyle was named by the Dodge City newspaper as the area’s offensive player of the year.
Kopper’s basketball team was a combined 48-17 in his three varsity seasons. Participating in the Dodge City Tournament of Champions, Kyle was named the tournament’s most inspirational player.
“We’ve been really blessed, even though some people looked at it as a handicap,” Kim said. “We’ve been blessed with Kyle in the fact that he doesn’t complain.”
With his father being a Tabor alumnus, it was a natural for Kyle to visit the Hillsboro school when it came time for college.
“I came for a visit, and I liked it here,” Kyle said. “I called here my senior year, and when Coach (Don) Brubacher took over, I knew this was the place that I wanted to go to school.
“I like the atmosphere here,” he said. “I like the way they incorporate Christ in all the studies.”
Kyle became a vital part of the Bluejays’ basketball team.
“He’s not the star on the team now, but there aren’t too many people from Cimarron that go on to play college basketball,” Kent said. “I know it’s not a major college, but I’m still amazed at the competition in the KCAC.”
Kyle continues to battle the effects of his childhood affliction to this day.
“If you watch me close enough, I prefer to jump off of my right foot because I don’t have the jumping ability in my left leg,” Kyle said. “Once in a while, someone will ask why one leg is smaller than the other.”
In spite of the challenges, Kyle is on track to graduate this spring and has a job waiting for him in Garden City. He plans to be married this summer.
Kyle says neither he nor his fiance is worried about the possibility of their children having a clubfoot.
“We don’t worry about it at all.” he said. “I’ve been through it, and know it can turn out all right. If it does happen, we have faith it will be fixed if it’s God’s plan.
“I try not to take stuff for granted,” Kyle added. “I think God is with everyone.
“I’d tell small children to look at something like this as an opportunity, and not let it take away from anything they want to do.”